Army health care to make changes
July 21, 2011
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. "In his last five months before retirement, Lt. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, U.S. Army Surgeon General, remains committed to meeting the health care needs of Soldiers, their Families, and veterans. In January, Schoomaker outlined his Top 10 Initiatives.
-- Soldier Medical Readiness
-- Comprehensive Behavioral Health System of Care
-- Culture of Trust
-- Implementation of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury/Concussive Injury Protocols
-- Development of Medical Home Implementation
-- Pain Management Task Force/Comprehensive Pain Management
-- Implementation of the U.S. Medical Command/Office of the Surgeon General elements of Health Promotions and Risk Preventions
-- Base Realignment and Closure Completion and Transition
-- Physical Disability Evaluation System Legislative Initiatives for the Army Chief of Staff
-- Army Medicine's Role in Enterprise Transition
Since January, the Army Medical Department has begun planning and implementing these initiatives in medical centers, hospitals, and clinics throughout the U.S., Europe and the Pacific.
“I think we are doing very well,” said Schoomaker. “None of them are particularly easy and that’s why we are highlighting them. If you look at them, they all require a campaign plan because they have several dimensions to them.”
During a town hall meeting that was hosted by the Western Regional Medical Command, Schoomaker highlighted that a Comprehensive Behavioral Health System of Care is necessary for Soldiers returning from combat.
“If a Soldier is going into a deployment with problems at home or with a prior history of depression, when they get downrange and are exposed to the dangers of combat and separated from family, with the strain of long days and sleep deprivation, they aren’t necessarily going to get better,” said Schoomaker. “By the same token, experiences they have in combat we know can lead to behavioral health complications like post-traumatic stress disorder. When that Soldier comes back, we need to look out for him.”
The Culture of Trust is another initiative that is helping physicians get to the root of behavioral health problems. Soldiers need to have the confidence that their providers can help them not only physically, but psychologically.
“I think many Soldiers are reluctant to bring up psychological problems,” said Capt. Aaron Birch, an emergency medicine intern.
Birch recalled a Soldier he treated who came in for one complaint and was able to trust him to bring up another issue, which happened to be psychological. The clinic had a psychologist on staff and Birch was able to immediately bring the Soldier to receive behavioral health care help as well.
“It is comforting to know that Soldiers can discuss their current symptoms, as well as other mental, emotional, and psychological concerns with healthcare providers and seamlessly incorporate mental health professionals into the visit, who can then more directly address the Soldier's behavioral health concerns,” said Birch.
With the influx of Soldiers returning from war with injuries, Schoomaker said, the care of wounded Soldiers takes an enormous effort and a lot of focus from younger physicians.
“It’s a difficult task [caring for wounded Soldiers],” said Birch, a Hemet,Calif., native. “There are many Soldiers that I have seen who get wounded and very much are striving to get better so they are able to get back to their unit.”
One Soldier who Birch treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, has been an inspiration for him to be the best physician possible.
“I remember one particular Soldier, when I was working in the surgical intensive care unit at Walter Reed, who had gone through several surgeries,” said Birch. “I was able to see him from where he was, to over a period of weeks, to how he progressed. I look back at that and that’s a lot of what I use as an inspiration to try do more and be better down the road. I look at the individual and think, ‘this could come through my door at any minute, and I need to be prepared to handle this,’ especially for future deployments.”
Schoomaker said the planning and implementing of these initiatives shows the Soldiers and their families that the medical community is implementing changes to provide even better health care to them.